The Paradox of Human Care

The domestic dog, Canis familiaris, is the oldest domesticated animal (Feddersen-Petersen, 2007).  It has achieved a symbiotic relationship with humans that has propelled it to the center of the human household.  According to the American Pet Products Association (2015), 54.4 million American households own at least one dog, making it America's most popular pet.  The dog's popularity is reflected in the entertainment industry, which anthropomorphizes them.  Popular television shows and movies, like the 1950s classics Lady and the Tramp and Lassie, depict the dog with human-like qualities.

Unfortunately, however, an unparalleled closeness to humans has also rendered the dog exceedingly vulnerable.  Indeed, while the dog might be "man's best friend," human attitudes and actions towards the dog are far more complex and variable.  Serpell (1995) referred to the dog's precarious existence in the "no-man's land between the human and non-human worlds."  He explained that the dog is rarely accepted for what it is.  Instead, he explained, it has become "a creature of metaphor, simultaneously embodying or representing a strange mixture of admirable and despicable traits" (p. 254).

The domestic dog's behavioral profile is definitely complex.  The irony is that much of the dog's make-up, to include many of its unappealing behavioral representations, is a product of human interference.  More specifically, humans have both directly and indirectly shaped canine behavior through domestication, artificial selection, and husbandry practices.  These forces have contributed to the development of a human-like animal with regards to both socio-cognitive behavior and pathology.  Certainly, both humans and dogs have achieved a certain level of sophistication in some areas of sociality and communication.  Likewise, canine behavioral disorders are eerily similar to some human psychiatric disorders.  These canine-human similarities have led to a close but insecure relationship with humans.

American Pet Products Association (2015).  Retrieved on October 2, 2015, from

Feddersen-Petersen, D.U. (2007).  Social behaviour of dogs and related canids.  In P. Jensen (Ed.), The behavioural biology of dogs (pp. 105-119).  Cambridge, MA: CAB International.

Serpell, J. (1995).  The Domestic Dog: It's evolution, behaviour and interactions with people.  New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.